50 games you should know: Anderssen vs. Kieseritzky

by Johannes Fischer
3/24/2017 – The arguably most often reproduced game in the history of chess is the so-called "Immortal Game". Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky played it on June 21, 1851, during the London tournament, the first chess tournament ever. But the "Immortal Game" was not played in the tournament but during a series of skittle games with which Anderssen and Kieseritzky entertained themselves. Kieseritzky lost the game but made it famous.

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"The Immortal Game"

The chess tournament in London 1851 was the world's first chess tournament. It took place on the occasion of the World Exhibition, which was also the first World Exhibition ever. Driving force behind the organization of the tournament in London was Howard Staunton, author, chess publisher, Shakespeare scholar and one of the world's best players in the 1840s.

Staunton had invited the best players of the world to come to London to play a tournament in knock-out mode. The eventual tournament winner, Adolf Anderssen, who was living as a teacher for German and Mathematics in Breslau, initially did not get an invitation because at that time his only notable success was a drawn match against Daniel Harrwitz played in 1848.

Adolf Anderssen at an early phase of his chess career. (Source: Wikipedia)

But the Berliner Schachgesellschaft which had been contacted by Staunton knew how strong Anderssen was and strongly supported to send him to London.

In the first round of the tournament Anderssen had to play against Lionel Kieseritzky, a professional player who was born in Dorpat (today's Tartu in Estonia), but lived in Paris where he made a living from chess. Anderssen won the match against Kieseritzky 2.5-0.5 but after the official match they continued the duel and played a couple of skittles games. This time Kieseritzky had the better of it: he won 10-6.

Lionel Kieseritzky (Source: Wikipedia)

But in one of these skittle games Kieseritzky suffered a spectacular loss, and this game impressed him so much that he wanted to keep it for posterity. Therefore he telegraphed the moves to his chess club in Paris. This was the beginning of a remarkable career: in July 1851 the game was published in the French chess magazine La Régence which was edited by Kieseritzky, and a little later Josef Kling and Bernhard Horwitz printed the game in the Chessplayer and made it known to English-speaking players. In 1855 the Wiener Schachzeitung showed the game to the German public, dubbing it „The Immortal Game“ and this name may be one reason for its fame that lasts till today. In the course of chess history it has been included into countless anthologies and in living game exhibitions the game remains a favorite. Novels and movies have alluded to the  „Immortal“, films were made about it and the crucial position was even printed on t-shirts.

Cover of Hannibal Arnellos, Die unsterbliche Partie (The Immortal Game)

T-Shirt (Photo: zazzle.de)

Chess scene from Ridley Scott's Film "The Blade Runner"

Anderssen and Kieseritzkys „Immortal Game“ has inspired and delighted countless chess players and is considered to be typical for the romantic era of chess, in which players liked to sacrifice material with abandon to mate the enemy king quickly.

Of course, the game has also been analyzed thoroughly. And if you look at some of the more critical of these analyzes of if you analyze the game with the help of an engine you will quickly notice that the famous game is full of mistakes. Though the winner played inspired chess many of his moves were objectively incorrect. However, before judging the players too harshly, one should not forget that this was a skittles game.

There are different ways to approach this famous game. For example, you can simply play through it to enjoy Anderssen's attacking play that culminates in a brilliant tactical finish, or you can analyze the game thoroughly to get a better understanding of the strengths and the inadequacies of chess understanding back then.

Therefore, the  „Immortal Game“ here is given twice: first without comments and then with critical analyzes by Dr. Robert Hübner.

The "Immortal" to enjoy


The "Immortal" to study


Biographical notes

Lionel Kieseritzky

Lionel Kieseritzky was born on January 1st, 1806 in Dorpat into a family with German roots. Legend has it that the father taught his son the basic rules of chess when Lionel was just three years old. Then Lionel's brother Felix took over to fine-tune the skills of the young talent.

From 1825 to 1829 Kieseritzky studied languages and law in Dorpat but left the university without degree and started to work as a private teacher of mathematics. At that time he was already one of the best players of the Baltic countries.

In 1839 he moved to Paris to try his luck as chess professional. He was a regular in the Café de la Régence, called himself "Chess Professor", offered chess lessons and played against visitors of the Café. He astounded the public by playing against four players simultaneously without seeing the board. Kieseritzky also wrote about chess. In 1846 he published a book with 50 of his own games and from 1849 to 1851 he published the monthly chess magazine La Régence.

Kieseritzky died on May 19, 1853, at the Charité in Paris at the consequences of a prolonged nervous disease.

Adolf Anderssen

Adolf Anderssen was born on July 6th 1818 in Breslau as a merchant's son. His victory at the London tournament 1851 was his first great success in chess. However, Anderssen who was a teacher by profession, only played chess in his leisure time and during holidays.

After the tournament in London Anderssen was considered to be the world's best player but from the end of 1858 to the beginning of 1859 Anderssen played a match against Paul Morphy who in search of strong opponents had decided to travel to Europe. Anderssen lost this match which took place in Paris 2-7, two games ended in a draw.

But after this match Anderssen still achieved a number of notable successes. In 1862 he won another big tournament in London but in 1866 he lost a match against Steinitz which was marked by uncompromising chess from both players - Steinitz won 8-6 but not a single game of the match ended with a draw.

Adolf Anderssen at a later stage of his career

But in Baden Baden 1870 Anderssen finished again ahead of Steinitz. Anderssen won with 11.0/16, half a point ahead of Steinitz who had 10.5/16. With 10.0/16 each Gustav Neumann and Joseph Henry Blackburne shared the third and the fourth place.

Anderssen died on 13th March 1879 in Breslau.

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Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".


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